Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nope, Not A Fan

Zip zip zip....

The sound of a suitcase being closed. I love that sound. It means either I am about to see something new or I'm heading home. Both feelings elicit a heart pounding excitement in me so the zip-zip-zip is good. Unless.....

Zip zip zip.....

The sound of someone else leaving. I hate that sound. I was lucky enough to have the baby home for Christmas and I am beyond grateful for that but, still it aches when it's time to let him go. I offered to write him a, "Please excuse" note for work and school but dammit if he isn't all sensible and junk.

Thankfully I am working today so I will not be subjected to the teary goodbye at the airport, will just have to give my hugs and "I'll miss you" in the living room where we spent many hours talking, cuddling and laughing. I think this is much better for me....

His name is Jeremy Dugan and should you happen to run into him, say hello, talk to him, listen to him. He is an incredibly intuitive young man. A smart, funny, gentle, sweet, sarcastic, genuine soul. Say hello and tell him that his mother is so very proud to know him...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Note To The Big Guys

Dear Kind and Somewhat Simple Minded Sirs,

I am writing you in an effort to avoid the awkward and honestly, very annoying conversation that we will be forced to have when....and yes I know it will be a "when" not an "if" you come in the shop over the next two days to drop your, "Killer deals!" on me. As I have mentioned to you before, (go ahead and read that as over and freaking over again) we are a shop that specializes in artisan and small grower Champagnes. Period.

We have built our reputation on finding wines that taste and feel like they were made by somebody, wines with personality, texture, length and freshness, you know wines that have everything your bulk produced, been sitting in a warehouse for God knows how long, insipid, often tired and flat tasting "But it's got a good name" brands don't. Yeah, those wines.

So I regret to inform you that I shan't be taking the five cases of Yellow Label, Whatever Star, Cordon Rouge or any of the other shit wines that at no matter how much a discounted price, (and let's be honest....I know it's a stretch for you but, you're gonna charge us more per bottle than Costco or BevMo are selling them for) still offer no value to my customers and have the ever good for business "Nah, I don't much care for it" Wine Country seal of ambivalence.

I understand that you are just doing your job, I mean those millions of cases aren't going to move themselves, (um, and you might want to stop using that line, "They sell themselves" when begging me to take some off your hands. If they did you wouldn't be here breaking my balls to take some. Just sayin') but as we have discussed ad nauseam, they don't move at The Wine Country either so offering me a free case to toss upon the five cases that I will still be looking at next December isn't quite the bait you seem to think it is.

I thank you very much for your attention to this letter and I ask that you print it out and read it again come February. I have neither the time nor the desire to beat this dead horse with you, again. Figured it would be in the interest of time, and my freaking blood pressure to contact you and be as frank as possible. No means no.....still.

Should you have any further questions or need any clarification please consult my spokesmen:

Pascal Agrapart
Serge Billiot
Camille Saves
Jose Dhondt

Bruno Gobillard

They can be found at the firm of, We Do It Better Than You
1 (800) Get-Clue

Much Love,
Samantha Dugan
Champagne Lover....

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Things Remembered

Fragrant, the smell of a Christmas tree…as intoxicating and palpable smell as there is. I woke from a little holiday induced nap on my couch to the deeply moving smell of a fresh Douglas Fir. The little lights and their waxy cords warming the needles and branches just enough to entice the tree’s aromas to fill both the tiny space that is my living room as well as flip the switch on bits of my cavernous melon illuminating memories and emotions that I had boxed up and tucked away long ago.

I guess I was always a freak when it came to aromas. I was that annoying kid that smelled everything….yes, even the gross stuff and would base half my decision on whether or not liked something, and sometimes someone, by the way it smelled to me. I have always remembered smells just as strongly and vividly as I do sights and sounds, more often than not a scent can trigger a memory or feeling faster than a picture, a song or the written word can.

The gamey, feral aromas of a skunk always remind me of those long car rides back to San Diego from Long Beach, the uncomfortable silence as our VW Bug bumped along the dark highway….my mother making her walk of shame back to our dingy little apartment after having to ask her parents for money, again. An unpleasant smell on my levels, also one that evokes a little fear in me.

Corn tortillas, an aroma that fills me with self satisfaction and a sense of wander…a desire to learn. My odd little summers in Mexico with my American but truly foreign, grandparents. The days and nights left to wander the market stalls, smell and taste things that I had never seen before. The warmth and affection given me by those that really understood why I would rather spend hours alone fondling and sniffing fruits, burring my hands deep into the bins of dried beans, scooping up as many as my tiny hands could hold, lifting them above my head before letting them all rain back into the bin, the laughter and pat on my head when I called them “Pennies from Heaven”. I began my love affair with food there in those stalls but it will forever be the smell of corn tortillas that is the most powerful. My little pockets stuffed with still-warm-from-the-stone tortillas, placed there by a “stranger” their heat and aroma my only company on the long, breezy walk back to the Bourbon and Scotch scented trailer that contained the strangers I had come to visit.

Roasted turkey always meant a happy day. Thanksgiving being my mother’s most beloved holiday. Can’t remember one time that she wasn’t positively giddy once she put the bird in the oven so….well, the smell of roast turkey makes me smile and feel at ease.

Blistex, the thick white clunky goo that my first lover would slather upon his young chapped lips. The tiny jar tucked into the upper pocket of his jeans, the way it would blend with his lotion and cologne…those nervous hands fumbling about my skin, grazing my nipples, making them tingle with want and a craving so powerful that it convinced my young body that I needed him. The first man to love me, like really love me and the first man I would surrender to.

Warm milk and yeasty bread….Europe. My first morning, sleep deprived and lumbering down into the dining room of a Paris hotel. The clank of heavy cutlery, the rustle of the morning paper, the plushy, ornate woven carpet giving beneath my feet, the finding of my spot and ordering my first cafĂ©.

The brickish orange cleaner that I used to scrub my palms, my nails, the one that used to stain my skin…the scent of a medicine cabinet and alpha, the aroma of visiting my son. His tiny body fighting for life, gasping for air, my cleanser filled nose dipping down into his tiny incubator…taking in that sweet, soft, vulnerable scent. His scent, the one that would forever change my life

Burgundy, discovering that wine was more than something I liked. It was to be as passionate and consuming….as physically and emotionally enveloping as any lover I had known before. The aromas that slithered from the glass like fingers wrapping around my jaw….pulling me closer, deeper. Standing in a cold cellar with five other people while this glass of wine slipped inside me, landed on my frame like a warm, wet mouth, causing my skin to tighten, my eyelids to heavy, the “oh fuck” to escape my lips. The groan as I felt my body demand that I take in more, one more sip, one more stroke, my heart pounding out of my chest, my mouth full of the most intoxicating and sensual lover I had ever tasted, a lifetime to do it over and over again.

A Christmas tree. As the vibrant, green, piney aroma filled my sleepy head I flipped through the pages of mental tasting notes, my connection and history with this most iconic holiday cast member. The first half of my childhood the smell of a Christmas tree made me feel sullen and helpless. We didn’t have a tree during the holidays when I was little, just couldn’t afford one and walking past them each time we entered or exited the supermarket my mother would stop and take deep chest filling sniffs…..likely visiting her own batch of “notes” and each and every time her eyes would fill with tears. Never understood it, knew nothing about her connection to that smell but the feeling was thick with words unsaid. It was a sadness and helplessness that I first connected to that smell.

The second half of my childhood we could afford a tree. One would think having this most longed for thing would inspire jubilation and a feeling of upward mobility, yeah…not so much. We first had a tree when we moved into a house with a man that would taunt, threaten and emotionally torment us. Flaunt the fact that we were lucky to have the tiny space he gave us and if we were not careful, didn’t jump when he snapped, he would yank this “beautiful” home away from us. My second connection with the Christmas tree smell was one of rage. Sure I was angry at him but I was also enraged that my mother once longed for this….brought us there to see what was never really ever going to be something for us. Hated it and in a way, hated her.

Years after moving out of that terrible place we would get a tree and thus began the sullen and miserable month of December. My mother always worried about what she wasn’t able to give. That smell made me feel guilty, like its being in the house was just one more symbol of failure to a woman who was doing all that she could, alone.

Sadness, rage, pity and guilt, these were the boxes I was riffling through as the tree…my tree shared its scent with me. I ran through the notes, reflected on those trees of past but the thing was…I didn’t, couldn’t feel any of it. My little tree, tucked into the corner of my living room, its lights blinking, the ornaments of varying interest, (hockey, wine, Jeremy’s Harry Potter) dangling from its scent saturated branches….my senior in college son sleeping in the next room, my desire to come here, write, talk and be with all of you. Profound happiness. I felt profound happiness as that piney smell swirled around my head, dove into my lungs and wrote the next chapter of notes…another page in the book of smells that will remain with me forever.

Fuck, I’m rambling ( so unlike me) but I just wanted to come here, to this spot where I have gotten to share my love for wine, my passion for the job that I get to do, my rants and revelations…just wanted to come here to thank you all. Your support and affection means more to this wine slinger than you can possibly imagine. You’ve all leant a hand in changing my story, writing the next chapter…there are no words powerful enough to express my gratitude.

Happy Holidays to you all….
Forever Yours,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

This Week's Tasting Notes


Three more days of holiday madness
Love it but
Damn, I'm tired.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

One Good Turn Begets Another

I was working the register closest the front door when a quick blast of air lifted the hairs that rest along the top of my back and blew them around my round face before they settled upon my collarbone. On windy cold days this “buzzer” of sorts works better than the little bing-bong sound, (that alerts us that someone opened the door) at getting my attention as the bustle of shopping carts, price guns and the slightly louder than usual holiday music tend to muzzle the subtle door alert. I turned to greet whoever was walking through the door and there she was. Small frame, handsomely dressed, short hair and “new boobs”….the last two while not produced by her own tiny body, suiting her quite smartly.

I greeted she and her son as I do with everyone that walks through the front door but for her there is just a little more sincerity behind the, “Hello”. Finished ringing the customer I was helping, tied up a couple of things I had dropped to help him and made my way to the French department where she was standing with her cart. On my walk over I was thinking that it had been some time since I had seen her but then remembered, while I did not have much time to talk with her she was at my end of the year Champagne event…the event where for the first time I was not at all nervous in front of the group….she was there. Made perfect sense to me yesterday as I approached her shopping cart and warm grin, of course she had been there that night. Our connection began over a bottle of Azo Chablis and as honest and courageous a conversation as I had ever had. Her spirit and strength a constant reminder for me to quit my bitching and marinate in how lucky I truly am, her telling me that she had read my piece about her…with tears of pride in her eyes as she thanked me….Jesus, she was thanking me, making me feel as close to a stranger as I ever have. My Lady of Chablis, the fighter of Cancer….twice, my fairy godmother was back.

A quick second greeting, neither of us seemingly good gushers, and “So, what can I help you with?” I asked. “Okay this is what I need” she said while hovering over a cut open box of one of her always purchased wines. “My mother was in the hospital, she had an infection in her blood” I listened as she shared the story, admittedly keeping an ear out for the phone that was ringing and giving the store a quick scan between nods, “a week later she passed away” her words making the phone go silent and making my focus tighten in on her and her alone.

“My mother loved this wine” she said while pointing to the box of Lapierre Raisins Gaulois, Beaujolais that is not labeled as such because some of the fruit is grown just outside the official Beaujolais AOC. “We are having her service tomorrow and she loved Beaujolais. My sister found a Louis Jadot for around $9.99 a bottle but this is so much better. Is there any sort of discount if I buy a whole case or more?” she asked. Felt several pangs in my chest and tummy, one because she had never asked that before, two because she seemed mildly uncomfortable doing so and three, we don’t do case discounts. “We don’t offer volume discounts” I told her, “We give the absolute best price we can on each bottle so we just can’t offer anything above that for case purchases” I assured her. I could tell she was just trying to justify buying this wine while her sister could get cases of Jadot for cheaper, ‘It doesn’t matter, I want this one, it’s so much better” she responded, “I need 22 bottles” I scanned the cut case and the few bottles on the rack and told her that I didn’t think I had that many. “How many do you have?” she asked, I bent to get a actual count, “18, 19, 20, 21, 22…” I had exactly 22 bottles. “I’ll take them and can you remove those price tags while we finish shopping?” she asked with a smile that assured me she was not only fine with the no discount thing, that she was happy to get the last remaining bottles.

I pulled the wines, scraped the tags off and went back to the floor to see if she needed any help and to share a little story with her. “You know it’s kind of interesting that you would pick that wine. Marcel Lapierre, the winemaker and owner of that wine you love….well sadly he passed away a couple months ago” have no idea why I told her, why I thought that would be an appropriate little factoid she would be at all interested in the day before hosting 160 people to say goodbye to her mother. It was something that should have been saved for her next visit and while I stood there wishing I could stuff the stoopid back in my mouth she said, “When my mom was really out of it, fading in and out, we asked her, “what do you want mom?” and she said, “Beaujolais” As she went on to tell me that other family members began conspiring to get her some, just a little to give her a taste of her beloved wine, the thumping of my own heart was drowning out her words, the shopping carts, price guns …the louder than normal holiday music.

I helped them pick wines for Christmas Eve dinner, did that on autopilot really as I wanted to get my chunky ass to the register before they finished shopping. Once they were done needing any assistance I hightailed it to the front counter where their de-priced boxes of Beaujolais were waiting. “Here’s what I want you to do” I told the staff. “I want you to ring up the Beaujolais separate and I want you to ring it under my employee discount” and this is where being the general manager has its advantages, they may have found the request unusual they were not going to question me on it. I had just finished making my wishes clear when she made her way to the counter, “I’d like ring these up separately” she told us while lifting her “for home” bottles from the cart and sliding them across the counter. “Perfect” I responded and went on to tell her that I was in fact going to give her a discount on the Beaujolais for…well, for her mother. She thanked me but the little bit of weight I could almost feel being lifted from her small but remarkably strong shoulders was really all the thanks I needed.

Once I was sure they were gone I again approached the staff with another odd request, “Okay now reverse that sale, ring it at full price and use this to pay for the difference” I said while handing over my credit card. It was not the store’s choice to give that discount, it was mine and it wasn’t out of fear that I felt compelled to toss my money in the register….truth is had Randy or Dale heard the story of an older woman, literally on her deathbed, in and out of clarity knowing that the one thing she did want was a glass of her favorite wine, well I’m sure they would have done the same. No it was that I so wanted to be a part of a day that celebrated the life of such a woman. A woman that raised another who’s strength, honesty and pride inspire me, touch me each and every time I’m near her and honestly….I wanted to give her that Beaujolais she asked for….

Got back into the swing of things at the shop, the regular, somewhat manic pace, the tissue wrapping, the picking of gifts and restocking that is the holiday season. Was in the middle of two projects when I heard my name being called at the front, “Sam you have a delivery” looked up and saw another tiny woman but this one was holding the sweetest bunch of flowers and a clipboard awaiting my signature. Opened the card to find a hilarious note from a dear friend, something about monkey balls that made me laugh out loud and touched that place in my heart that I devote to connections. She sent them just to add brightness to my day, make me laugh and thank me. Thanking me for what I’m not sure but having such a friend and feeling it so powerfully resting upon my recently exposed heart, well lucky doesn’t begin to explain it. Not sure what it is about The Lady Chablis’ visits but something wonderful and ultimately introspective, in a good way, always happens when I’ve been near her….

Finished my day at work feeling light and profoundly happy, lucky as hell to work in a place that begins these little life lines, the ones that cause me to step just enough out of my comfort level to touch and be touched by such multi-textured and affirming people. Really is such a gift. Grabbed my little bunch of flowers hoping it would rest in my cup holder and not spill all over during my way home in the rain. Popped the little silver cup of fragrant white flowers into the console and it fit like it was designed for just such a use. Big grin and a shake of my head and I pulled out onto Redondo Ave to begin my trek home.

Got in the left hand turn lane and waited my turn with my wipers desperately flailing, making that “vrom-vrom-vrom” sound to accompany the “click-click-click” of my blinker and that was when I saw him. An asshole in the right lane trying to nudge into the left hand turn lane….holding up a long line of people that were just trying to go straight. This pisses me off like no other. Okay, make a mistake but do not, I repeat, do not make everyone else pay for it….go up and turn around, asshole. He was starting to bum my mood so I, quite angrily mind you, waved him over and let him get in front of me so that everyone else behind him could move along. I was kind of steaming and muttering all sorts of profanity, (me, can you believe that?) when I saw that the light was turning yellow, “Oh thank you Captain Me First, now I have to wait for the next light” I snarled just as the guy pulled up to make his left on the yellow….he wasn’t the only selfish ass trying to make that light. A van coming the opposite direction gunned his engine trying to speed through light….massive accident that spun both cars across the slippery intersection and left me sitting at the now red light, debris of asshole smoking and crunched in front of me, my hands shaking a bit as I thought, “That would have been me. I would have been next had I not let that dick slip in in front of me”….;lucky does not begin to describe it.

Got home and rattled off the events of the day and while I am supremely lucky to have the husband I do, well he is not so much with the listening. I was this bubbling mixture of excitement, relief……wonder and the poor bastard that married me was looking at me with the face of a six year old in church, like “Gawd, how much longer?” Settled down and into making dinner, a homemade Mac & Cheese studded with bits of Italian sweet sausage and a simple salad. I knew what I wanted to drink with it, what would pair deliciously and emotionally with the day I had just had…..

“I want Beaujolais”

I slowly sipped away at glass after glass of Piron Brouilly, letting the playful, simple fruit fill my mouth while I let the spirit of kindness, friendship and love fill my soul. I have a fairly godmother, I’m sure of it now, her name is Cheryl but for me, she will always be The Lady of Chablis.

For those of you that missed our first meeting…..

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where I Live....Like Really Live

A quick peek, a virtual tour of The Wine Country. The place where I found my voice, the bounce in my step and fell in love in a way I never thought possible. The store where I work. The place where I let my palate and memory play, where we all learn and where, on occasion, I teach. This is a home to me like no other I have ever know.

I flip on the lights in the morning and think, "Hello beautiful, let's make them squirm, let's make them want..." and as the faces I have seen time and time again filter through the door, their lists in hand, their "Oh you helped me last time" resting like fingers in my back, push us to keep finding wines that keep them coming back for more. ....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

And So It Begins

I had planned on starting this post with a sullen voice, a deep sadness and regret to inform you all that I had grown tired of blogging world and felt it was time to retreat to my little corner of the universe and unplug my voice from the sea of chatter.


I was going to say that posting a piece from The HoseMaster was a bit of a religious experience for me and he made me see the error of my barking poodle ways. That I was going to follow that man like his name was Noah. Give up this nonsense and spend my days growing yarn or something.


I was going to tell you all that I was turning this into a pay per view sight so if you wanted to read any of my silly crap you would have to pony up like $10.00 a month. Death to Sans Dosage for sure.


I was going to give up English for Lent. Could not remember when that is so that was out.


The truth, I'm just plain tired.

Oh, not tired of blogging anything, just spun out by working retail during the holidays. Don't get me wrong, I adore this time of year at the store......the decorations, the music, the high energy, the gift baskets the tissue paper and bows. I love it all but with it comes some seriously sore body parts and no not the pain in the ass kind. Just aching feet, screaming back (cases of wine are like heavy and junk) cuts all over from razor blades and cardboard, (oh holy hell do those freaking hurt) and pure exhaustion from the pace of it all. Add the holiday parties, the visitors from out of town, the shopping and the regular bits of life that distract and need our time and well, just have not had the time or energy to write or post much of anything. Kinda kills me as I do so love writing here and hearing from my little band of loyal (I was going to say readers but that sounds too "fancy" and not quite personal enough) friends but it seems the nights that I don't have plans, (See you this evening Jess!) I come home, make dinner and pretty much fall into a post busting-my-ass-all-freaking-day pile of glitter covered goo on the couch.

So there you have it, I was not kidnapped by The HoseMaster, have not gotten greedy and decided to make you all pay for the "pleasure" of reading my silly bullshit, nor have I found religion...just wicked busy, sapped of energy and tired as hell. Not giving up my little spot here on Blogger and I hope my silence will not cost me the one in your hearts....I'll be back, I promise.

And that concludes my public announcement.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Surprise! HoseMaster's Gift Giving Guide for 2010 (He's Baaaccckkk...Sort Of)

Christmas is upon us, and it seems that every family has a wine expert among them for whom they have to buy a gift. He’s also usually the Family Jerk. In my family, that’s me. So every Christmas I come up with a list of wine gifts that I would actually like to receive instead of the usual corkscrews, T-Shirts (“I have 100 points in my pants” or “Temecula Wines—We’ll Show Those Swiss!”) and copies of Food and Wine Magazine’s Guide to Wine (“…the guide for people for whom mediocrity might just be too high a bar to get over,” says the Wall Street Journal, and they should know.). So for those of you who must also buy for one wine jerk or another, here is The HoseMaster’s 2010 Christmas Gift List for Wine Lovers.


Parker Brothers (that’s Robert and his brother Fudge Parker) has just released a new game that is not only fun to play, but teaches you and your family the fundamentals of BioDynamics for use in your own home. BioDynamics is one of the most controversial subjects in the wine world, right up there with screwcaps, terroir and blind tasting wine critics (who taste lousy, blind or otherwise—except for Lettie Teague, who reminds me of an Alsatian cheese), and, like all of those, is also vastly misunderstood. BioDynamics: The Home Game enlightens as it entertains. Among the most interesting aspects of its play is how it adapts the tenets of BioDynamic agriculture to home use. For example, instead of burying cow horns filled with silica in the ground, players are directed to fill empty toilet paper rolls with popcorn kernels, hide them in the fireplace, wait six months, and then watch a Werner Herzog movie and eat what’s left of the popcorn. This, the game instructs, will bring balance to your colon and create a home for beneficial insects. In another part of the game, players are asked to discuss their personal lives as they relate to the phases of the moon, and are shown how important it is to never use Cialis on a fruit day. By the time you’re through playing BioDynamics: The Home Game you’ll have a firm grasp on the world of BioDynamics, a world that makes The Sims seem downright imaginary!


Riedel has made a fortune on decanters and wine glasses, having convinced wine experts and other jerks that the wine glass you use needs to be the right shape or you have robbed the wine of all meaning. Clearly, this is brilliant marketing. It preys upon the ubiquitous insecurity of wine lovers in the most innovative way since the 100 point scale. Your own meager and uneducated senses fall far short of being capable of enjoying a fine wine, the message is clear, unless you enhance them with numbers and expensive glassware. Only then will you be able to appreciate wine the way true connoisseurs do. By acting like an asshole.

Of course, now that I have dozens of sets of Riedel stemware, glasses for wines from Amarone to Xarello, as well as stemless glasses (for compliance with Handicap Accessible laws), I need the appropriate decanters as well. And just in time for the holidays, Riedel has released its new line of Celebrity Decanters. These are wonderful, innovative and fun for every wine lover on your Christmas list. There are five new Celebrity Decanters for 2011. I want one of each!

The Gary Vaynerchuk Decanter: Garish and loud with a stupefyingly big mouth, this decanter is perfect for wines purchased from a huckster.

The Alice Feiring Decanter: Oh so delicate and refined, handmade in the most natural way possible, the design of this lovely and curvaceous decanter goes on and on and never ever comes to a point. Just big enough for a single glass of wine.

The James Suckling Decanter: Polished to make you able to see your own glorious reflection, so much more important than the wine itself. Just fill it with Italian wine and watch it vanish!

The Michel Rolland Decanter: Who better to introduce oxygen to your wine than the king of micro-oxygenation? This beautiful decanter will make all of your highest scoring wines taste exactly the same!

The Jay McInerny Decanter: Even when it’s obviously completely empty, it’s always full of itself! Put any wine into this elegant decanter and chances are, just like its WSJ namesake, you won’t have a clue that it tastes any different than any other wine.


Actual Secrets of the Sommeliers

Rajat Parr (I was a big fan of his great-uncle Jack who replaced Steve Allen as host of “The Tonight Show”) and Jordan Mackay (named for a Sonoma County wine of appropriate dullness) return with a sequel that, unlike their first book, actually does talk about the secrets of those remarkable men and women who toil tirelessly in restaurant wine cellars all across the world. Ever wonder how to earn a Wine Spectator Grand Award without a single recognizable or affordable wine on your list? Turns out it’s easy! Make names up!

“Il Lollapalloozaia 1997 Vinnie Dimontalcino $350”

Don’t worry, Wine Spectator goes over the entries with a fine tooth rake. Among other secrets discussed--tastevins are really just cheap ashtrays, matching wine with food by price, and the secret to selling syrah (list it as “Exotic Meritage”) The book also has a section on how to talk like a sommelier which dispels the notion that sommeliers are snobs. They are not. They’re boors. Ever sat in a roomful of sommeliers? I sat in a toilet with the seat up once—it’s a lot like that.

Leaking Between the Vines

Every so often a book comes out that speaks to wine lovers in clear and beautiful language about the miracle of wine and how best to appreciate it. Be nice if this were one of them.


The thirteenth in a series that began with the classic “76,” author Frank Lee Poyntless takes on the sensual yet irrelevant wine score 88 in this fascinating study of what it means for a wine to score 88 points. He points out that 88 is a wine that everybody likes but nobody is excited by, so it’s like the fattest bridesmaid. Poyntless goes on to interview famous wine critics and ask them how they reach the score of 88 points in their blind tastings. Said critic James Laube, “It’s cabernet, it’s from Sonoma, it’s 88. It’s chardonnay, it’s from Carneros, it’s 88. It’s pinot gris, it’s tap water, it’s 88. 88 is a no-brainer. Trust me, I would know.” Robert Parker’s take on 88? “Easy. 88 is the new 84.” Charlie Olken on 88, “How many times do I have to tell you, the numbers don’t matter! The descriptions matter. Numbers without descriptions are like pies without crusts, and I’m nothing if not a crusty Marie Callendar.” You might think that a biography of a wine score would make for dull reading, but in yet another of his seminal studies of wine scores, Poyntless makes it a page-turner. The wine world is breathless with anticipation of Poyntless’ next book, the kiss of death “89.” But that’s for next year’s list.

Of This I Am Sure

“She’s making chicken soup, what should I bring?” a very new to wine me asking our then store manager what wine to bring to dinner that might pair well and impress my boyfriend’s parents. I had already begun my wine obsession, spent countless hours along with most of my paycheck, tasting, taking notes, geeking out and frankly falling in love with the wines of Burgundy, Alsace, Rhone and the Loire but food and wine pairings were still something of a mystery for me. I was a tad uneasy when she placed the squatty bottle in my hand; this was the same woman that told me to pair Amarone with a salmon in cream sauce…to this day one of the most gawd awful pairings I have ever had the displeasure to put in my mouth and really? Champagne and chicken soup?

This is when I confess to you all that even before The Wine Country there was one wine that I adored. One wine I would purchase from Luckys and Save On (both no longer) when it was on sale, for those, “special” nights when “getting it on” was on the menu. It might come as no surprise to you but it was a sparkling wine…that I called Champagne of course and I would happily plunk down my $3.99 for the plonk when the mood called for it. No matter that it made me burp, (oh so sexy right?) and gave me a raging headache the next day, I thought that was just the price of being fancy, what all wine lovers dealt with which was why I was a bit reluctant to hop on board the wine loving train in the first place. Blame it on the Ballatore Spumante…ewe.

So I forked over my $80.00, a far cry from the $3.99 I was used to spending on bubbles and tossed the bottle in the cold box until it was time for me to punch out and head to dinner. I was nervous as hell when I walked into the boyfriend’s parent’s house, nervous just being there and concerned that the wine I brought was going to be a burp and headache inducing joke. I stood back silently as my boyfriend’s father removed the foil and popped the cork (and there was a real one in there unlike the plastic bullshit ones in my Ballatore) and made small talk as he filled up our glasses. The smell of fatty chicken broth and simmering carrots thick in the air as I wrapped my fingers around the glass, the chatter, my nervous tummy, all thumping around me in that “bigger than I had ever seen in person” kitchen. I brought the glass to my lips, was planning on skipping the whole sniffing business, just needed a shot of something to kill the butterflies that were banging themselves against the walls of my stomach but, but something happened.

That night some thirteen years ago, standing in that kitchen, boyfriend’s parents sizing me up, chicken carcass being bounced around in a deep pot of bubbling broth, tummy fluttering and head spinning I got lost in a glass of wine like I had never been lost before….it devoured me, stole me and my attention away from every single other thing in the room, I fell in love. It was a bottle of 1989 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois that obliterated the memory of the gassy, sweet, headache giving Ballatore. Took my breath away, had me pulled so deep in the glass that I felt like I was bathing in it, paired brilliantly with the steaming bowls of hot broth flecked with bits of chicken and tender macaroni and began the love affair that would consume me. My time, my want, my money….all of it free that I had went to feeding and fueling that love, my passion and understanding of them inspiring Randy to make me the head buyer for our Champagne department…the first department aside from cheese that was mine and mine alone.

“Welcome to our final Champagne tasting of 2010” my voice Friday night trying to spread out across the full house of people in attendance. As those of you that have been reading this blog for some time know, leading classes in the only part of my job that I dislike. It’s not the classes themselves but my very real fear of speaking before a group that makes the hours before I have to lead one down-right unbearable for me. This past Friday the store was too busy for me to wind myself up too much, didn’t have time to fester and stew and before I knew it I was standing before the group welcoming them…eagerly. Comfortably talking about small growers, why I always serve potato chips at my Champagne classes, (the salty crunchy thing is a lovely partner for Champagne and I rather like the contrast of snack food with something as refined and decadent as Champagne) and discussing the stylistic differences before each flight was poured. Never occurred to me to even feel nervous, one of the great loves of my life doing what true love does….making me feel comfortable and loveable in my own skin.

I buzzed around the room pouring wine, answering questions, reprimanding my rowdy little bunch of very loyal regulars….the ones I always seat together and often away from the rest of the group pretending to punish them but secretly (or not so much) stopping by their table just to visit with people I truly adore and whose support also goes a long way in making these events easier on me….and was so deeply into the wines, so confident in their quality that even the heckler that seemed hell bent on getting under my skin could not break through my little love bubble.

“This will go perfectly with the Champagnes right?” the guy holding up a bar of milk chocolate in my face. He had been to a couple of my Champagne classes before and was very aware that I always make it a point to tell people that sweets and Champagne are a terrible pairing, at least for the Champagne. He was wearing this rather smug smirk on his face and as I launched into my “why it doesn’t work” diatribe he started cutting me off and laughing at his own jokes….awesome. I knew the guy was going to be doing the same sort of “Smug Funny Man” act all night, sadly I was correct.

I just poured, tasted and ignored his glib little jibes. Let the rest of the room feed me and the wines inspire the comments that flew from my lips. Okay I took a shot back in his direction after he made a snide remark following my description of Camille Saves as a librarian in fishnets (the way I always do, explaining that while they are intellectual wines they are also sexy as hell) “So this is a pilot in high heels?” he quipped as I filled his glass, “Dude, it’s whatever you need it to be…whatever turns you on” I responded, (okay I might have added, “You cheese dick” in my head) before giving him my own little smirk and moving on to the people that were there to enjoy Champagne…and to learn something.

The wines were truly stunning, the most brilliant to me and backed up by the sales at the end of the night:

2004 Marcel Moineaux Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($60.99) Amazingly complex and layered, deep roasted citrus, white flowers and herbs with just a bit of savory yeastiness. Powerful, remarkably powerful but the texture and weight is as all great Blanc de Blancs should be…delicate and refined.

2005 Jose Dhondt Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($70.99) Loads of primary fruit and bits of butter pastry, quite full and rich in the mouth with a finish that reminds me of roasted apples in buttery crust.

2002 R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut ($59.99) One of the most feminine wines of the night which was a bit of a shock considering the high percentage of Pinot Noir here. All grace this wine; rose petals, herbs, lemon custard, red apple skin and brioche. Full in the mouth but so gentle, seems to almost tiptoe across the palate and leave behind the softest kiss of sweet cream and apples.

2002 Camille Saves Grand Cru Brut ($65.99) Not only a librarian in fishnets, a tall, curvy librarian in fishnets. Massive structure, big mouthfuls of dark red fruit and pie crust with holiday spice and lemon curd. The flavors change with each sip, reveling something a little different….a little more. Painfully sexy wine that stains the palate and goes on forever.

After pouring the last flight I banged two glasses together in order to nab the crowd’s attention for one final word about the wines, to thank them for their support all year and to tell them that while I have many opinions on how to drink Champagne; not too cold, no sweets, in a regular glass, it is only because I love the wines so much that I want them to show the best they possibly can each time they drink them but…well the thing I wanted most of all was for people to drink them. Too cold, in a flute and with a bar of chocolate…just drink them.

I stood back and watched people buzz about the wines, some excitedly, others quietly sniffing and sipping, taking their own bath in aromas and developing flavors…marveled at the watching of others either revisiting with an old love or falling in love for the first time. Thought about the changes my own love affair has gone through, how Billecart-Salmon began breaking my heart, leaving me flat and disappointing me more often than pleasing me. How Pierre Peters, Agrapart, Camille Saves, Billiot were able to stoke the flame that pushes me, makes me purr, inspires cravings and burns in me still…..

I love all the wines of France…okay I’m not hot for Bordeaux but no other regions wine can do to and for me what those of Champagne can. It’s true love of this I am sure…..

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What True Happiness Looks Like

Just purchased....for Jeremy. I will in fact get my only Christmas wish, a hug from my baby on Christmas morning.

Just yesterday I was working the floor at the shop, the Christmas Cd's in full shuffle and (admittedly hormonal) twice I found myself with tears in my eyes. First when I'll Be Home for Christmas came on....gawd what a horribly depressing song that is. Now I know it was created to be uplifting and all but holy hell what a dagger when you are feeling all sorry for yourself.

Second was when Baby It's Cold Outside cycled in, this is Jeremy's favorite Christmas song. When he worked for us at The Wine Country and this song would come on he would crane his neck looking for me, do this adorable Sinatra-like snapping thing and sing it to me. When it came on yesterday I instinctively scanned the store looking for him. Totally crazy right, I knew he wasn't going to be there grinning and snapping his fingers but my momma thing kicked in...I looked. Half a second later I was on my way to the ladies room trying desperately to act like I was not about to lose my shit.

This morning it took only four words and I was once again in tears, "The baby is booked" more Christmas song played in my head, This Is My Grown Up Christmas Wish.

Best gift I have ever received....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Love The Way You Move

Mind bending


I sit here, Dave Matthews groaning in my ears, tasting notes on lined sheets before me and I can’t help but be envious. The achingly palpable want you inspire, the way the very thought of you can make my skin pull tight against my bones, the tiny blonde hairs stand alert and ready….the mere memory of your scent can make me swallow hard, hear a low raspy saxophone that causes my shoulders to loosen. The evocative promise of one more taste. One more moment alone with you…just my mouth, you lying, spreading across my tongue, your body mine to roll around, swish against the silky sides of my mouth. Your painfully craveable stain forever a whisper in my ear, a poke in my side, a scrapping of teeth along my ribcage.

I love the way you move…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Please Do

NOT do this. Oh Gawd, this looks so vile. A "cake" made from ground turkey and stuffing with mashed potatoes as frosting. I'm going to blame the Queen of Cheese Sandra Lee. Please don't do that but...

Please DO have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Eat well
Drink better
Laugh loud

Take a moment to remember the faces and laughter of those that might not be able to rest their feet beneath the table of this years feast. Be thankful for their contribution, their seasoning of your memories. Honor them by finding joy in the picturing of them.

Most of all just be thankful for what you do have
For those you love
Those that love you in return

I wish I had a table large enough to invite each one of you that has touched my life
Said the absolute right thing
Made me feel loved and appreciated
Time and time again
I am so thankful to you all....

I will raise a glass
Whisper your names in my head
Smile thinking of you happily nibbling away at a table full of love and laughter
Feel thankful for

Samantha Dugan
Wine Slinger
Occasional ranter
Humbled Storyteller

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Okay, This Right Here Kinda Sucks

You know those weeks that are sailing along, full of promise, laughter, love and that utter amazement at how lucky you are to be awake and alive? Yeah that was last week. This week could not be further away from that.

Started with being behind on my newsletter stuff, I’m not a stress case kind of person, I just don’t get worked up in tizzies too often but when I feel like I am letting someone down like I do every time I am late getting my write ups to Randy? Well it sends me into a stress filled, self loathing kind of spin that leaves me dizzy, and speechless…which is always perfect when you are stressed because you are late getting someone your words, and like a complete loser. Then comes the aftermath of introspection, why am I always late? Why can’t I just spill all the love I have for a wine that intrigued me enough to purchase for the store into a shelf talker that will make everyone want to buy it…maybe that’s the bit of pressure that stands on my neck making it impossible to speak. Whatever, between the stress dizzies and the beating up of myself I end up exhausted and lifeless….and that was only Sunday.

Monday, my cherished day off and date night with the wee boyfriend, this had to perk me up right? Um, yeah had to cancel the date night. We were having our annual Wine of the Year judging at the shop so after being called a “wet blanket” by my four year old boyfriend I headed out to taste and vote. Now this is always a fun tasting, the staff is all fired up to share the wines that make our hearts pound, the wines that stood out in a year’s worth of tasting appointments and classes. Great wines, we get to taste, talk about, vote and argue about great wines, a perfect day for me but even this had me feeling a little gloomy.

“Have fun!” the husband chirped on his way out the door for MY date night. “Oh my wines are going to get clobbered” I responded. There was really only one wine worthy of my Wine of the Year this year and I just knew it was going to be knocked out in the first round of judging. Maybe it was the post newsletter gloom but I was sullen when I walked in the shop for the judging, just knowing that a wine I was so in love with was going to get tossed aside and deemed “too weird” or just not good enough.

Wrong! I was so wrong and my odd little wine swept in the White Wine of the Year battle. Amazing, felt amazing and when I got home I could not shut up about it. I was just so thrilled that the wine spoke to everyone and even more excited that a big bunch of people would be giving the wine a try based on our giving it a Wine of the Year approval. So imagine how my heart sank when I got an email from the importer telling me they had made a mistake. “There are 10 cases coming but it won’t be until January and it will be a new vintage” Fuck….fuck. Most of you probably won’t understand how crushing this was for me, for that consider yourself lucky that you are not as big a geek as I am but….my eyes literally filled with tears as I read those words. It’s not winning, hell all the wines I put up took the win this year, it was this one wine and the hope….the belief I had in it, the way I wanted everyone to have their hearts pound away too. Deflating but….that was just Monday.

Tuesday found me picking at the scab of an argument that never truly healed for me and brought the added benefit of rage, disappointment and hint of condescension from someone I love very deeply.

Wednesday was a whole ball of wax; found out we were in fact not done with the newsletter…a big important part simply forgotten, (insert self loathing here), an email from another loved, a giant slap in the face and questions of loyalty, a documentary that ripped my heart out and sent me to bed puffy with tears and wondering how people can be so cruel but….that was just Wednesday.

I woke this morning still puffy but giving myself the post cry pep talk, “Well least your eyes are wicked green today” the one upside to a big cry. I was ready to take on the day and then the text that done me in

“They are changing the rules at work. No one can request time off and no one can leave the week of Christmas” Jeremy. Jeremy may not be home for Christmas this year. The first year in 21 that I may not get my most wanted thing, a hug from my baby Christmas morning.

I’d like to ask whomever is holding the voodoo doll in my likeness to ease the hell up already. I am breathing a heavy sigh as I get ready to leave for work this morning, placing all the hope I can muster in the basket of selling wine. A great day at the shop I love, selling wine to people that adore it as much as I do….least I still have that. Sheesh…..